The next time you're about to shoot a penalty kick with only seconds left on the clock, or need to smash a cross-court winner to finally beat the tennis partner who always bests you, consider this: Researchers may have discovered a simple way to help you avoid choking under pressure.
How? It might be as easy as squeezing a ball or clenching your left hand before competition.
In experiments with soccer players, judo experts and badminton players, researchers in Germany discovered that the athletes were less likely to buckle under pressure when they squeezed a ball in their left hand compared to when they squeezed a ball in their right hand before competition.
Although researchers aren't sure why, they theorize it is likely because of the way the brain is structured. Previous studies have shown that conscious rumination, which is controlled by the left side of the brain, can often hamper athletic performance. The right hemisphere is associated with automated behaviours and, importantly, controls movements on the left side of the body.
In other words, by squeezing a ball in your left hand or even just clenching your left fist, you may activate the part of your brain responsible for the body's ability to put aside thought and, as Nike would say, just do it.
"Athletes usually perform better when they trust their bodies rather than thinking too much about their own actions or what their coaches told them during practice," lead researcher Juergen Beckmann, chair of sport psychology at the Technical University of Munich, said in a press release.
Not all athletes will benefit from the technique, researchers said. It applies to actions that require accuracy and complex body movements, therefore chances are it's not going to be much help to runners or weightlifters.
Nor is it known how the technique might benefit lefties. Everyone in the study was right-handed because the relationships between different parts of the body and the brain are less clear when it comes to left-handed people.